By Mark Alan Hughes, GreenBiz

18 October 2012 — This month, Siemens Corporation opened a new exhibition centre and corporate headquarters in London for its Sustainable Cities initiative. It’s called The Crystal and is perhaps best described as a LEED-certified monument to the corporation’s confidence in cities both as a force for good and a source of profit.

The German multinational conglomerate has its hands in nearly all significant global industries: technology, energy, healthcare, infrastructure and finance. The fact that the company is now investing heavily in services and products intended to make cities run better, and more sustainably, means that issues that many of us care about — energy efficiency, water conservation, smartgrid interoperability — are now fodder for big business just as cars, oil and industry have been in the past.

While it’s easy to be cynical of a corporation’s motivations for an event like this, it’s important to remember that cities experiencing dark financial moments increasingly depend on allies from the private sector to help them keep the lights on.

With that scary thought likely in mind, some 300 mayors and thought leaders from around the world turned out for opening events at The Crystal. (Disclosure: I was invited to the event by Siemens and the corporation paid for part of my travel expenses, as it did for other attendees).

UN Under-Secretary-General and UN-Habitat Executive Director Joan Clos opened the event with a discussion framed by simple question: Why were the UN and Siemens — ultimate examples of the public and private sectors — co-sponsoring a conference? He then offered three sets of facts to provide an answer.

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